Confucius being at home at leisure, with Zi-xia by his side, the latter said, 'With reference to the lines in the Book of Poetry (III, ii, ode 8, 1), "The happy and courteous sovereign, is the father and mother of the people;" I beg to ask what the sovereign must be, who can be called "the parent of the people."' Confucius said, 'Ah! the parent of the people! He must have penetrated to the fundamental principles of ceremonies and music, till he has reached the five extreme points to which they conduct, and the three that have no positive existence, and be able to exhibit these all under heaven; and when evil is impending in any part of the kingdom, he must have a foreknowledge of it - such an one is he whom we denominate 'the parent of the people.'
Zi-xia said, 'I have thus heard (your explanation) of the name "parent of the people;" allow me to ask what "the five extreme points" (that you mention) mean.' Confucius said, 'The furthest aim of the mind has also its furthest expression in the Book of Poetry. The furthest expression of the Book of Poetry has also its furthest embodiment in the ceremonial usages. The furthest embodiment in the ceremonial usages has also its furthest indication in music. The furthest indication of music has also its furthest indication in the voice of sorrow. Sorrow and joy produce, each the other; and thus it is that when we look with the directest vision of the eyes at (these extreme points) we cannot see them, and when we have bent our ears with the utmost tension we cannot hear them. The mind and spirit must embrace all within heaven and earth - these are what we denominate "the five extreme points."'
Zi-xia said, 'I have heard your explanation of "the five extreme points;" allow me to ask what "the three points that have no positive existence" mean.' Confucius said, 'The music that has no sound; ceremonial usages that have no embodiment; the mourning that has no garb - these are what we denominate "the three points that have no positive existence." Zi-xia said, 'I have heard what you have said on those three negations; allow me to ask in which of the odes we find the nearest expression of them.' Confucius said, 'There is that (IV, ii, ode 1, 6), "Night and day he enlarged its foundations by his deep and silent virtue" - there is music without sound. And that (I, iii, ode 1, 3), "My deportment has been dignified and good, Without anything wrong that can be pointed out" - there is the ceremony that has no embodiment. And that (I, iii, ode 10, 4), "When among any of the people there was a death, I crawled on my knees to help them" - there is the mourning that has no garb.'
Zi-xia said, 'Your words are great, admirable, and complete. Do they exhaust all that can be said on the subject? Is there nothing more?' Confucius said, 'How should it be so? When a superior man practises these things, there still arise five other points.' Zi-xia said, 'How is that?' Confucius said, 'When there is that music without sound, there is no movement of the spirit or will in opposition to it. When there is that ceremony without embodiment, all the demeanour is calm and gentle. When there is that mourning without garb, there is an inward reciprocity, and great pitifulness. When there is that music without sound, the spirit and will are mastered. When there is that ceremony without embodiment, all the demeanour is marked by courtesy. When there is that mourning without garb, it reaches to all in all quarters. When there is that music without sound, the spirit and will are followed. When there is that ceremony without embodiment, high and low are harmonious and united. When there is that mourning without garb, it goes on to nourish all regions. When there is that music without sound, it is daily heard in all the four quarters of the kingdom. When there is that ceremony without embodiment, there is a daily progress and a monthly advance. When there is that mourning, without garb, the virtue (of him who shows it) becomes pure and very bright. When there is that music without sound, all spirits and wills are roused by it. When there is that ceremony without embodiment, its influence extends to all within the four seas. When there is that mourning without garb, it extends to future generations.'
Zi-xia said, '(It is said that) the virtue of the kings (who founded the) three dynasties was equal to that of heaven and earth; allow me to ask of what nature that virtue was which could be said to put its possessors on an equality with heaven and earth.' Confucius said, 'They reverently displayed the Three Impartialities, while they comforted all beneath the sky under the toils which they imposed.'
Zi-xia said, 'Allow me to ask what you call the "Three Impartialities."' Confucius said, 'Heaven overspreads all without partiality; Earth sustains and contains all without partiality; the Sun and Moon shine on all without partiality. Reverently displaying these three characteristics and thereby comforting all under heaven under the toils which they imposed, is what is called "the Three Impartialities." It is said in the Book of Poetry (IV, iii, ode 4, 3), "God in His favour Tang's House would not leave, And then Tang rose that favour to receive. Tang's birth was not from Xie too far removed, His sagely reverence daily greater proved. For long to Heaven his brilliant influence rose, And while his acts the fear of God disclose, God Tang as model fit for the nine regions chose" - such was the virtue of Tang.
'To Heaven belong the four seasons, spring, autumn, winter, summer, with wind, rain, hoar-frost, and dew;--(in the action) of all and each of these there is a lesson. Earth contains the mysterious energy (of nature). That mysterious energy (produces) the wind and thunder-clap. By the wind and thunder-clap the (seeds of) forms are carried abroad, and the various things show the appearance of life - in all and each of these things there is a lesson. When the personal character is pure and bright, the spirit and mind are like those of a spiritual being. When what such an one desires is about to come, there are sure to be premonitions of it in advance, (as when) Heaven sends down the seasonable rains, and the hills produce the clouds. As it is said in the Book of Poetry (III, iii, ode 5, 1), "How grand and high, with hugest bulk, arise. Those southern hills whose summits touch the skies! Down from them came a Spirit to the earth, And to the sires of Fu and Shan gave birth. In those two states our Zhou a bulwark has, O'er which the southern foemen dare not pass, And all its states they screen, and through them spread. Lessons of virtue, by themselves displayed" - such was the virtue of (kings) Wen and Wu. As to the kings (who founded) the three dynasties, it was necessary that they should be preceded by the fame of their forefathers. As it is said in the Book of Poetry (III, iii, ode 8, 6), "Very intelligent were the sons of Heaven, Their good fame was without end" - such was the virtue of (the founders) of the three dynasties. (And again), "He displayed his civil virtues, And they permeated all parts of the kingdom" - such was the virtue of king Tai.' Zi-xia rose up with a sudden joy, and, standing with his back to the wall, said, 'Your disciple dares not but receive (your instructions) with reverence.'
Source: Chinese Text Project http://ctext.org/liji. English translation "Sacred Books of the East, volume 28, part 4: The Li Ki", James Legge, 1885